by David Bergsland
I’m very pleased to present you today with a guest article by author, teacher and graphic designer David Bergsland. David has a unique method for writing and designing his books and a passionate reason for it too. Here’s his story:
A recent email conversation with a new friend (who is working on her book) made it obvious that what I am doing is nearly unique. She was desiring to do the same thing—work creatively within Adobe InDesign to produce completed books almost as a fine art exercise. She couldn’t find anyone else even talking about it.
One of the wonderful things about the new publishing paradigm is the control we get as artists, authors, and designers over the entire package. The modern book is released in multiple sizes, versions, and formats—in print, online, and as e-books.
The content and design remain fluid as we shape the book while we learn and grow. We can easily adjust content, layout, and the entire presentation of our books [even after they are released] in response to emails, FaceBook friends, tweets, and the whole host of contemporary social interactions online.
One of the trials of this new paradigm is the incredible amount of knowledge required and the various skills necessary to do all of this. I have been uniquely positioned to take advantage of the new workflow. I began as a fine artist in the 1960s and early 1970s. I learned typesetting and graphic design at the hands of a masterful art director in the late 1970s. I spent a decade as an art director myself within the largest commercial printer in Albuquerque.
The Word Spreads
I began teaching these materials in 1991. Within a couple of years a large traditional publisher was asking me to convert my handouts into a book on the new digital printing. I used that opportunity to develop one of the first printing and design programs in the country that was all digital. I wrote a book a year for them on typography, FreeHand, Illustrator, Photoshop, and finally InDesign. Publishing with InDesign was one of the first books on this new software that would quickly take over the industry,
While all of this was going on, in 1996, I developed a complete online version of all my coursework at my community college. I continued to write new instructional materials. I was supplying them to my students off the class website as downloadable PDFs.
Then, in 2002, I found Lulu. With Lulu, then CreateSpace, then Scribd, then Zazzle, then Kindle, and then ePUBs, my world radically changed. Writing books became a real joy to me as InDesign kept getting better and better. More and more I was doing everything in InDesign except the photos done in Photoshop.
So, why should you use InDesign?
Here I am again recommending a road less traveled by—not unusual in my life and work. Before the choruses rise up in defense of other workflows, let me tell you my reasonings.
I fully recognize that most people write in Word. What they do not realize [in most cases]: this simple fact starts their book under a great handicap. They are missing the best tools for communicating with their readers.
Books are not entirely about words
Of course as a writer this may not make much sense to you. But hear me out. For years I have taught graphic designers that the content is all that matters. This has been a major fight because many [maybe most] designers never read the copy they design into books and printed materials.
In fact, this is still true now that graphic designers are responsible for laying out Websites, blogs, and many other distributors of the words you write. In the publishing world there is a real disconnect between the writers and the book designers. They are treated as two entirely separate skill sets.
Designers do not deal well with words
Graphic designers [and this includes many book designers] are visual people, focused on how things look. One of my major concerns as I started to write books in the mid-1990s was my experience of using published textbooks as examples of poor communication.
My pursuit of functional, reader-centered books has been fraught with trials. This goal is so far outside the norm in traditional publishing today that there is no room at all for an author who even cares about these things.
Let’s talk about some simple examples of this lack of concern for the reader
- Illustrations listed by number with no connection to the copy which talks about what is illustrated: In many cases, authors are not allowed to even pick out the images because they are not considered professional enough to understand what is required of an image.
But the result is illustrations listed by number that are often not even on the same page as the content they illustrate. Why bother to even have explanatory graphics? Few readers will find them or take the time to look for them. The result is frustrated readership and readers who simply quit reading in disgust.
- Heads and subheads generated by designers: In many cases over the years I spent as a graphic designer, I wrote all the subheads, developed all the lists, wrote all the captions, and even wrote most of the headlines.
I developed them out of a need to help direct the reader through the copy I was formatting for the writer of that copy. The author had no clue that they were desirable or necessary. I wrote them as a service to the reader. But I was a real minority as mentioned. Many designers [and it may well be most designers] do not even read the copy they layout. The ones who do read and try to help usually do not understand your niche.
- Page layout determined by fashion and visual concerns: Fonts are chosen because they look good. Layouts are determined by fashion. Columns, margins, sidebars and the like are chosen to stimulate visual interest and provoke excitement instead of being chosen to communicate the content effectively, clearly, and accessibly.
The most glaring example of this is seen in the countless books where content is broken up into small pieces to help people with short attention spans. No one seems to even consider using content that is so compelling that the reader becomes immersed in it.
But it goes much further than that. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia about the normal traditional editorial process [force yourself to read the next paragraph, I know it’s hard]:
“A decision is taken to publish a work, and the technical legal issues resolved, the author may be asked to improve the quality of the work through rewriting or smaller changes, and the staff will edit the work. Publishers may maintain a house style, and staff will copy edit to ensure that the work matches the style and grammatical requirements of each market. Editors often choose or refine titles and headlines. Editing may also involve structural changes and requests for more information. Some publishers employ fact checkers, particularly regarding non-fiction works.”
Notice that there is nothing here about serving the readers. The readers’ needs are not part of the process. It’s all about sales and the marketing decisions of the publisher.
This process is long and expensive
It’s all about money. Books must support a huge bureaucratic infrastructure both at the publishing house and at the printing company. Production costs run from tens of thousands of dollars on up to millions. If you cannot count on selling thousands or millions of books, they cannot afford to publish your work. It commonly takes a year after the manuscript is completed to produce the book. For time-sensitive work, this does not work well.
These specialists commonly do not understand your content
I have had copyeditors flag something to be changed or eliminated that was standard industry usage because he or she did not speak the industry lingo. They had no idea what a separation is for an image, or a signature is for a book, or that leading is a specific measurement (and deals with the metal not a person out front leading the procession).
Imagine finding editors and proofers for a book on a capella choir music, steam engine design, Japanese carpentry, Norwegian landscape design, dulcimer construction, raku kiln design, rosemaling, passion plays, calligraphy, weaving looms, Pueblo Indian jewelry, Hatch green chilé, I Ching, prophets, or whatever your niche is. It’s not going to happen.
But you can write a book to your niche that will sell well. You know your niche and you understand your readers much better than the publishing houses do.
You must learn to produce your own books.
For the past two decades, I have taught publishing skills. For the past fifteen years I have written and published books, both traditionally and on-demand. I have taught skills to present digital content transparently, effectively, and gracefully. But Word [and word processors in general] cannot do this. There are skills and capabilities that are necessary which are simply not available in Office.
Typography: This is the skill to use fonts, paragraph styling, and page layout to invisibly communicate content: point size, leading, small caps, ligatures, oldstyle figures, lining figures, ems, ens, discretionary hyphens, tracking, kerning, and much more. For this you need a professional page layout program, InDesign.
High resolution images: Printing requires 300 dpi minimum. You’ll need Photoshop. JPEGs, GIFs, and PNGs won’t work.
Postscript (or PDF): This is a page description language that is required by book printers. You must be able to create [and proof] in Postscript. This requires InDesign, Photoshop, and Acrobat Pro.
PDFs: All printing companies now require a PDF from which to print. If you give them anything less, they make their own PDF. You have no control over what results from that conversion.
Page layout: A thorough understanding of columns, margins, alignments, indents, gutters, lists, tables, headlines, subheads, sidebars, running heads, drop caps, and much more is necessary to help your readers.
A word about typography
This is the key. Without excellent typography, many of your potential readers will refuse to read your book—no matter how compelling your verbiage. Writing a book without controlling the typography is like racing against Indy cars with a Chevy. You can make that Chevy really fast—but can you compete?
Word cannot do typography [without an incredible amount of knowledge and effort]. Once you have that knowledge, InDesign is a typographic dream come true—eliminating much of the effort.
It will take study
But then, you had to learn how to write, correct? Now you need to learn how to communicate. Here’s a good working definition of typography:
Typography is communicating clearly and effortlessly without the reader’s awareness of what you are doing
This is what InDesign does best. It gives you the ability to implement clean, clear typography that is instantly comprehended by the reader. Your readers do not even see the words. The content directly enters their minds and they become immersed in it.
You may write incredibly good content. Without excellent typography, you are giving your writing a handicap that many readers will have a difficult time overcoming.
Writing in InDesign gives you typographic power
You can use a subhead for clarity, a kicker to emphasize a headline or subhead, lists to recapture the reader’s attention, a sidebar for peripheral information, a table for overly complex lists, and much more. You can see on the page [as you write] how clearly the content is being communicated. It changes your book into an expression of your content. It provides the control you need to speak to your specific niche.
Basically writing in InDesign gives you tools that word processors have a hard time even imagining. You will find yourself using styles to make a portion of content more visible (or less visible). You will learn to communicate much more clearly.
When you’re done, it’s ready to print!
The final result of an InDesign document is a print-ready PDF or a validated ePUB. If you print on-demand, it can be in the hand of your reader in a week or less. If you produce an ePUB or downloadable PDF, they can have it to read this afternoon. A Kindle book might take another week. All from the same content.
I have done that with my latest book, Writing in InDesign. Currently, it’s available at Lulu and Amazon. I haven’t gotten to the ebook versions yet. I’d love to hear your feedback. Let’s talk on Twitter: @davidbergsland or on my blog.
David Bergsland‘s passion is typography, page layout, & book design. He’s written seven books published by others and helped with a few more. But the best part of the books for him were the six that he was able to design and produce in their entirety.
Since early in the millenium, he’s published dozens of books and booklets—his best-seller is self-published on-demand: Practical Font Design, now offered by FontLab in some of their bundles.
He’s been in print production since the late 1970s as an art director and then a teacher, and helped to develop some of the first materials to teach the new digital print paradigm in the early 1990s. David’s been teaching digital publishing since 1991 and began on-demand publishing with downloadable PDFs in the mid-1990s.
He was on the original team with InDesign 1 and has written many books and booklets on how to use InDesign effectively. After beginning to write full-time in 2009, he has become even more enamored of the page layout tool—doing all of his writing within the app.
He lives in southern Minnesota in a small town with his Pastor wife and near his daughter and four grandchildren.